Single neurons were recorded in freely behaving rats during fear conditioning from areas of auditory cortex that project to the lateral nucleus of the amygdala (LA). The latency and rate of conditioning and extinction were analyzed, and the results were compared to previous recordings from LA itself. Auditory cortex neurons took more trials to learn, and they responded more slowly than LA neurons within trials. Short-latency plasticity in LA, therefore, reflects inputs from the auditory thalamus rather than the auditory cortex. Unlike LA cells, some auditory cortex cells showed late conditioned responses that seemed to anticipate the unconditioned stimulus, while others showed extinction-resistant memory storage. Thus, rapid conditioning of fear responses to potentially dangerous stimuli depends on plasticity in the amygdala, while cortical areas may be particularly involved in higher cognitive (mnemonic and attentional) processing of fear experiences.
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